Spice It Up!! The reason why you have to try the food from Indonesia

Abdul Halim Ahmad
Published in
6 min readOct 22, 2019


What do you think about Asian cuisine, Indonesian Cuisine in particular?

As the largest archipelago country with over 17,000 islands, Indonesia has a thousand cultures that made the people in every island has different style and taste as well.

Most of the “citizens of the world” do not really know Indonesian food, what is it like, or what exactly the characteristic of the cuisine itself.

Indonesian cuisine has so many characteristics, based on more than 250 million people, the 17,000 islands, the weather, and culture.

From the main city to the small village, Indonesian food contains so many spices, it is full of spices. Most Indonesian food has one thing in common, it’s gorgeously rich in flavor!

If you haven’t tried it, you will not have any idea what I meant. What makes it so special, it’s because of the aromatic herbs, spices, and chili, with well seasoned, Umami it is.

The perfect balance of sweetness, saltiness, and other taste buds created a savory that will make your appetite increase.

The story of Indonesian cuisine comes from so many cultures that created this particular great food, from Arab, Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese, and Indian influences. But they don’t fully make Indonesian cuisine truly Indonesian.

Indonesian food is not the same as other southeast Asian cuisines, neither South Asian cuisine, it is so diverse, therefore the Indonesian feel exasperates with those who kept saying that we took other cuisine and adopted it as local cuisine.

If you are aware of history, when the Dutch colonial was in Indonesia, they were there because of spices, Nutmeg, mace, and cloves were the most wanted spices at that time. So, history, itself explained that we are not just copy-pasted from others.

If you ever visited Indonesia before, you will surprise that there is a lot of variety of food from every island that completely has a different flavor. Beef rendang, chicken satay, and nasi goreng are the most popular food in Indonesia. The caramelized braised beef with chili, coconut, and other spices was never been good without steamed rice. The grilled chicken on the skewer is nothing with peanut sauce, the peanut sauce itself is not that tasty without kecap manis (sweet soy sauce). Even the nasi goreng, is not just fried rice, there is plenty of nasi goreng type in Indonesia, not only with Kecap Manis.

source: tasteasianfood.com

I have remembered one moment when I was still in Abu Dhabi, I cooked one of the famous soup dishes from Indonesia called “Soto”. A friend of mine was surprised after eating one spoon of the soup, he said that was blasting in the mouth. A Soto is basically a soup, but when you add the word after for example “Soto Ayam” it is chicken soup, “Soto daging”, which is either beef or lamb, and “Soto Betawi” is one of the cultural races in Indonesia. But It is not just regular soup, we got super rich broth, with aromatic veggies, spices kaffir lime leaves, and so on. There are extremely a lot of Soto varieties in Indonesia, based on the original place, or race.

One of my favorite food is a vegan dish, yes!! if you are Vegan, Indonesian food is Vegan-friendly. It is from a long time ago when the ancestors were alive. Tempeh and tofu are most probably available everywhere in every corner of the city, village, or island. The soy-based protein-sourced food is one of our choices when we are tired of meat.

My mom always remembers, when I got home, she will not cook fancy food, cause she knew that I barely not going to search for the ingredients of authentic Indonesian outside the country, I might go to some Asian or Indonesian food, but they don’t really serve a package what I was looking for.

She will cook “Sayur sop” which is veg based soup, “Tempe Mendoan” which is Crispy Fried Tempeh in batter, “Sambal Kentang” — stir-fried cooked potato in sambal, some stir-fried veggies, and my new favorite food “Sambal Jengkol” which is “Stinky bean” fried, and cooked in very spicy sambal, and of course serve with steamed flavourful jasmine rice.

Those dishes are without animal products, and none of them contain animal-based sauces, even though we have a variety of recipes, that we could go with shrimp paste, oyster sauce, etc.

In street food, you are easily found a lot of vegan food, vegan snacks, etc. “Gorengan” is a variety of crispy fried snacks, that is everywhere in every corner it’s totally vegan, they are basically some fried dough, veg spring roll, crispy mixed veg cake, crispy tofu, and fried tempeh in tempura style. Those sellers are not making it with eggs, most of the batter is just from starch, wheat flour, aromatic veg, veggies, soybean products, and so on.

Back to the story, this particular cuisine brings you the joy of comfort food, you will feel happy that your tummy is just filled with the food.

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well if one has not dined well.”
― Virginia Woolf

source: google.com

when it comes to food, people could not stop thinking about it, but when comes to delicious food, we all have different tastes. We could not force people to like some of the food, it is natural that everyone has one taste called umami. Not only in Japan, but Umami also exists in Indonesia, it is when you could enjoy the balance of saltiness, sweetness, bitterness, and sourness in your mouth.

There are so many ingredients that have their own umaminess, and as we are speaking of Indonesian, if you are talking about the cuisine itself, all the food is just having the umaminess without adding monosodium glutamate. But only for those who are not indifferent when we speak about cooking.

Because success is the result of perfection right?

And if you are talking about different people, well, adding some enhancer is not wrong! As long as you measure it, and you know what, it does not destroy the original taste. Or, if you want some natural one, you could definitely create your own enhancer aka monosodium glutamate.

If you know “sate ayam” or what we can call chicken satay, it is so popular that every country in Southeast Asia has one, but they are not having one like in Indonesia, because it is originally from Indonesia, you could find it easily everywhere in every corner, in city or village, even in the small island.

Chicken satay has its own umami taste from the meat itself, but it gets more flavor when you grill it in a charcoal griller, and adding “kecap manis” when you grill and serve it with peanut sauce. “Kecap Manis” is one of the elaborate ingredients that really help other foods (not all) become tastier, it is believed that it has its own umaminess.

Source: Google.com

Another great ingredient, that could enhance your food taste to the next level is shrimp paste and “Tauco” which is fermented soybean. Those two are great umami tools but when you know how to use them, you could not just add them to your dish without measuring it, too much will create a disaster.

If you live in Dubai like me, Thank God, it is easy to find an Indonesian restaurant or some with an Indonesian twist.



Abdul Halim Ahmad

Food writer | Research & Development | Chef Consultant | Food culture enthusiast | Professional chef